The Southern Regional High School boys lacrosse team established itself as one of the top teams in South Jersey last season.
This year, the goal is to maintain that reputation and defend its Shore Conference A South and South Jersey Group IV titles. And with a majority of last year's team returning, the Rams, who were 18-2 last season, have high expectations.
Some roles will be reversed this season. Three seniors on defense who served as the backbone of the team and let the young offense grow have graduated.
Now, a majority of the offensive players are juniors, and they will have to carry the Rams.
"We have a lot of leadership and a lot of kids who have been two- and three-year starters," eight-year coach John Pampalone said. "It's time they have the ability to carry us while our younger defense gets their legs and gets the experience they need to help us come tournament time again."
Southern will be led by junior attack Dylan Jinks (53 goals, 31 assists last season) and senior attack Brendan Mullen (53 goals, 20 assists). Jinks, the 2013 Press Player of the Year, also earned first-team Shore Conference honors and was a United States All-American last year.
"With me and (Brendan) and some of the guys on the midfield we really know where each other will be at what time, and it just helps us out" Jinks, 17, said. "Mullen always is great. He can find a hole that I can fit the ball through and he can finish."
Mullen, 17, and Jinks aren't the only scorers for the Rams. They are just two of five Rams last season who scored at least 28 goals.
Junior midfielder Shawn McManus (31 goals and 32 assists) is the other top returning goal-scorer for the Rams.
"It's definitely a factor. It changes how the game is played," said four-year starter Mullen when asked about the benefits of having so many scorers.
Juniors Jinks, midfielder Chris Smith (20 goals in 2013) and defender Mike Adragna have started for the Rams since their freshman year. Goalie Brendan LeFanto rounds out the junior class of key returning players.
"It's a very impressive class," Pampalone said. "Not only are we looking forward to this year, but they should carry us next year as well."
With Nick Jinks (now playing at Eastern University), Frank Thissen (Stevens Institute of Technology) and Nick Hem gone, the 6-foot-3 Adragna welcomes the challenge of anchoring the defense.
"I want to set an example for the others around me," Adragna, 17, said. "I have to step up, make plays and also help everyone around me achieve the same goal that we all have, which is winning."
The defense will also feature 6-foot-2 sophomore Evan Henken, who was called up to varsity midway through his freshman year. Fellow sophomore Anthony Triola will play long stick midfield, along with short stick midfielders David Behr, a junior, and Jon Manzo, a sophomore.
Senior Bill Dowd is Southern's faceoff specialist. Last season, he had an 82 percent faceoff winning percentage, earning him Shore Conference first-team honors.
Southern is looking to compete with three-time defending Shore Conference champs Rumson-FH Regional, as well as Jackson Memorial.
"We've always been a team that went out and fought in the beginning of Southern's lacrosse program," Mullen said. "Last year, the team came together, and we put it out there being in the Shore Conference finals and going through the state tournament.
"Right now we have to stick with that reputation. We have goals to fulfill and we're going to do that this year."
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